Bike and Build: Cycling Across America

This summer, a handful of UVA students will be participating in Bike and Build, a program designed to benefit affordable housing through service-oriented cycling trips. These individuals will be scattered on different routes across all parts of the country, including the Northern Route (from New Hampshire to Washington), the Central Route (From Virginia Beach to Oregon), the Providence to Seattle Route, and the Coastal Drift Route (from Bar Harbor, Maine to New York City). Excluding the Coastal Drift Route, which is a three-week trip, these rides will take about three months of the summer to complete.

Courtesy: Bike and Build
Courtesy: Bike and Build

Ziyad Amer, a fourth year, will be riding on the Coastal Drift Route this summer. His ride will include a total of 816 miles biked between June 8th and June 28th, as well as five build days. The build days, taken every fourth or fifth day of each trip, are for the bikers to volunteer with local affordable housing affiliates, such as Habitat for Humanity or YouthBuild. The riders will help with painting, drywall, roofing, landscaping, or any other task that will help bring members of their host community closer to affordable housing.

“I’ve been planning to ride ever since a friend of mine, Sunny Sowards, rode the Central U.S. route in 2014,” Amer said of his inspiration to apply for Bike and Build. “After growing up in Jordan, I was never a stranger to the affordable housing crisis and its widespread aftermath. Bike and Build will give me the opportunity to contribute to a cause greater than myself, while exploring the U.S. on ground with like-minded individuals.”

Sowards, a fellow UVA student, rode from Virginia Beach to Canon Beach, Oregon, totaling almost 4000 miles in the summer of 2014. The first build day of this Central Route is in Charlottesville, at the very beginning of the trip.

“It was the most transformative experience of my life,” Sowards said of her ride. “Bike & Build sparked within me an insatiable curiosity to learn about people, places, and the ways we can make our communities more equitable for all citizens.”

Many of the bikers will be riding across the country, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The day-by-day aspects of these trips highlight the nature of the experience, from breakfast provided by generous community hosts, to a morning route meeting, to the ride itself—usually about 65 miles a day riding with small groups of 3-4 people. Riders often stop and chat with community members about the affordable housing cause along the way, as well as take advantage of the beautiful route scenery for photo opportunities and lunch breaks. Each night, the bikers stop at a hosting church, school, or community center, to have dinner and participate in presentations, bike clinics, or a little site-seeing before going to bed.
Bikers will also have certain responsibilities to help out with the daily life.
“During our route, we will be staying with many volunteer hosts. Riders will also be assigned chores each week, from cleaning up host locations, to buying and preparing food,” said Amer.
These daily routines become so much more important over the course of each individual’s trip, and every small moment turns into a big memory. The individuals begin to form lasting friendships with their fellow bikers, who they rely on and grow with throughout the ride.
“I also gained lifelong friends who I still regularly visit across the country and share very special connections with,” Sowards said, “including memories of biking against extreme head winds in Kansas, stopping for roadside cliff-diving in Utah, and celebrating our “prom” in a tiny town of Oregon.”

The bikers get to create memories while also making a big change for the cause of the program. According to the Bike and Build website, a home is affordable if payments plus taxes and basic utilities do not exceed 30% of a household’s gross income. Unfortunately, many families in the U.S. do not have the financial means to rent or own an affordable, durable home, and many Extremely Low-Income (ELI) individuals and families spend over 50% of their income on housing.

“I developed a deeper understanding of myself and refocused my studies and career goals to center around public service and promoting affordable housing,” Sowards reflected. “I came to deeply appreciate the diversity of our nation, both its people and landscapes, and listened to citizens share their stories of housing struggles in communities throughout the ride.”

Each rider is responsible for raising money before beginning the trip, and many students have been fundraising around UVA Grounds with local businesses, like Biltmore and Chipotle. However, they are still working towards their goals, and will be around the Charlottesville community for the next few weeks in preparation for their trips.
“We’re approaching our goals,” Amer said, “but we will host a few more events before June, and will likely be selling grilled cheese sandwiches outside of libraries during finals week. Come stop by!”
Donations can also be made on the Bike and Build website, where web posts throughout the summer will also be posted to follow the impressive journeys of these individuals.


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